The Wildlife Center has shifted to its Spring/Summer operating hours and is now open Monday through Friday 9:00-6:00 and weekends 9:00-4:00pm. Sunday was the first full day of spring and it is quite appropriate that a baby Great Horned owl became the 1000th intake of the year. Raptor babies, especially Great Horned Owls are usually one of the first babies to make their appearance each year. This year we were several weeks into baby squirrels before the Great Horned owlets began showing up at intake. This month has kept the Center staff, veterinarians, and volunteers very busy treating and feeding hundreds of squirrels and opossums. The squirrels seemed to fall out of nests when strong winds blew through in March. The Center is also caring for over a hundred little baby opossums who were kept alive by the protection of a mother's pouch, when moms were run over by vehicles. While we are sad the moms did not make it, their heritage is carried on by these resilient little ones. Caring volunteers not only provide these orphans food and shelter, but do so in a manner that keeps them wild so they have the best chance at survival when they are returned to the wild. Baby doves are beginning to show up at the Wildlife Center. They will soon be followed by songbirds and Killdeer. Hopefully, the squirrel and opossum babies will have eased off before the birds hit their peak. A young female bobcat was brought to the Wildlife Center who was hit by a car. She has a severe head injury. Wildlife Center veterinarians checked the bobcat out and she was found to have an eye injury as well as several check bone fractures. She is on medications and is [...]
When it comes to bird feeders it's always something. If it isn't the squirrels eating the seed, it is the hawks eating the birds. While we all know that hawks need to eat, we just don't want them dining at OUR bird feeders. The only way to truly make a feeder hawk proof would be to build a cage around your yard that has openings big enough for the birds, but too small for the hawks. Since that is clearly impractical what are the alternatives? For the last 14 years a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks has called the land around my house their territory. There have probably been many pairs, but there is always a pair claiming our yard as their territory. They scream out their territorial challenge from the abandoned Martin house in my neighbor's yard on a daily basis. Despite this there have been less than 5 instances where a hawk or other predator has taken a bird from my back-yard. Why? Maybe I got lucky with my feeder placement, but my neighbor hasn't complained about hawks taking his birds either. What do the placement of my feeder and my neighbor's feeder have in common? Absolutely nothing - and maybe that is the point. My yard has enough cover that straight line shots are minimized. My neighbor has several large trees, but they are grouped together leaving lots of straight line shots, especially from the abandoned Martin house. My theory is that I have physically made it harder for the hawks to snatch from my yard and my neighbor has made it psychologically more difficult because prey feel exposed and jumpy. Most hawks scope out potential food sources (i.e. your birds) from a nearby perch. [...]
While baby bird season is beginning to wind down, we are still receiving Mockingbirds, Blue Jays and Dove. The pictured Mockingbird is a fledgling. From hatching of an altricial species to the unfurling of enough flight feathers to flutter short distances is considered the nestling stage. Babies are completely dependent on the parents at this stage for nourishment, warmth and protection. Once they fledge, the young will continue to beg for food, but will begin to search for food on their own. Within a few days they are flying well and feeding themselves. Precocial species like Killdeer, chickens and ducks are mobile and self-feeding shortly after hatching. They require mom’s protection and guidance to find good sources of food. They will hang together as a group until the young are flying well. Then the group will disperse. Raptors, especially the larger owls have an additional development phase called branchling that occurs between nestling and fledgling. Branchling babies can’t really fly yet, but they leave the nest and spread out along the nearby branches. They continue to be fed by the parents and strengthen their wings by vigorous flapping. They begin to experiment with flight by jumping and fluttering between branches.
Injured adult doves and young are quite plentiful right now at the Wildlife Center. Most folks are familiar with the haunting call of the Mourning Dove and can pick it out at (under) the birdfeeder. But the Houston area is home to a total of four different species. All doves start life as “ugly ducklings” covered in dingy white down and a disproportionately large beak. Pigeons belong to the same family as the dove and are sometimes called Rock Doves. The most common dove in the greater Houston is the Mourning Dove, but the White Wing Dove is quickly becoming a fixture in our backyards. Rare until 5 -7 years ago, they were usually seen only when migrating to or from breeding grounds in Mexico and Central America. These days they are frequent year-round visitors. They look very similar to Mourning Doves, but they are much bigger and at rest, you can see the white band that outlines the leading edge of the wing. (Note the white feathers are already emerging on the nestling below) Eurasian Collared Doves can be distinguished from Mourning Doves because they have a thin black collar or necklace at the base of the neck. Inca Doves are the smaller of the species that make Houston home, in the bright sun there are some iridescent feathers, but the “tiled” appearance of the feathers is the most distinguishing characteristic. Doves make sloppy haphazard nests that often fall apart before the babies have fully fledged. Therefore, baby doves are one of the most common species seen at the Wildlife Center. Every effort should be make to encourage [...]
Novice bird watchers often get Loggerhead Shrikes confused with Mockingbirds. They are close enough in looks that a quick glance misidentification is understandable. On second glance, even a novice will know that there is something different here – the bird looks like a Mockingbird on steroids! While they are about the same size and both have gray, black and white coloration, the similarities stop there. Shrikes are North America’s only predatory songbird. The beak is hooked like a raptor’s, but they don’t have talons for holding prey. To compensate for this lack, the Shrike family impales prey on thorns, barb wire fences etc. This practice has earned them the nickname “Butcher Bird”. They will readily eat insects, small snakes, lizards and even small birds. Insect eating Shrikes even cast a pellet when their stomachs are full of hard exoskeletons.
The numbers of colorful songbirds being spotted by birdwatchers this year has exploded! Even neighborhood feeders and gardens are attracting many species not often seen in our area. During the fall migration, the birds' plummage is battered from the breeding season and they are molting into their less colorful winter plummage. But during the spring migration everyone is bright and beautiful in their new breeding finery. There were several notable releases of birds whose migration was delayed while they rehabilitated at the Wildlife Center. The first is a female Painted Bunting. The male Painted Bunting has a deep royal blue head and a rosy breast. Populations of Painted Buntings continue to be under pressure from captive bird dealers that sell them as pets. These birds are very secretive and prefer brushy thickets. They prefer to eat insects, but when insects aren’t plentiful, they switch to seed. The next was a Kentucky Warbler. A small warbler, the Kentucky Warbler crosses the Gulf of Mexico non-stop between their wintering grounds in Southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America to their nesting grounds in central and eastern United States. The top surfaces are olive and the chest and under parts are yellow. The differences between the male and female warbler isn’t as dramatic as the Painted Bunting, females and juveniles have a more olive coloration and smaller or missing black marks below the eyes. Sometimes it is misidentified as a male Common Yellowthroat which has a white belly. To help these birds on their way or support those that have decided to make the Gulf Coast their home the Wildlife Center has several suggestions. Change birdbath water daily and every few days rinse with a 10% bleach [...]